You are here

Your Guide to the New Food Label


The Nutrition Facts Label helps you understand the nutrients a food product contains, and the Nutrition Facts Table lists all the items required by the law. Food labels have percent daily values listed for a set group of nutrients based on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended 2000 calorie diet. You may need more or fewer calories, so check with your kidney dietitian. Using the daily percent values and ingredients listed, you’ll be able to choose foods within your special diet needs.


All ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the item of the most weight listed first. If an ingredient is listed at the end, a very small amount was used in the product. 

Here is a list of ingredients to avoid when reading labels: 

  • chocolate and cocoa
  • cheese, milk, and cream
  • melon, oranges, coconuts, and bananas
  • molasses and peanut butter
  • nuts, dried fruit, and raisins
  • potassium chloride (KCl)
  • dark rye flour
  • frozen vegetables packed with sauce
  • spinach, potato, and tomatoes
  • wheat or oat bran

Serving sizes

The serving size listed tells what a single portion of food is. The rest of the information on the label means information about the serving size listed. If larger or smaller amounts of the food are taken, use the information on the label to figure out the nutrients for the portion you will eat. Be aware that the serving sizes listed may not be the same as the serving size on your diet plan. Talk with your kidney dietitian about using serving sizes to meet your needs. See "Putting it All Together" below for portion sizes for CKD.


Calories tell you how much energy is found in a serving of food. If you are trying to lose weight, you may be looking for foods with fewer calories per serving. If you need to gain weight, look for more calories per serving. Ask your kidney dietitian what is best for you.

Fat and cholesterol

Many people with kidney disease are on low fat and low cholesterol diets, so be sure to look at the fat and cholesterol daily values. Look for:

  • foods with less than 10% daily value of saturated fat 
  • foods with less than 7% daily value of cholesterol.
  • lean or extra-lean meat with 7.5 to 15% daily value of total fat

If you need to gain weight, higher fat foods may be ok. Speak with your kidney dietitian about your needs. 


Many people with kidney disease must limit their use of sodium. In general, look for foods with no more than 6 to 10% of the daily value for sodium. Keep an eye out for potassium chloride as it is a common ingredient in low sodium products. If listed, be aware that the food will have a high potassium content. Caution should be taken if you are on a potassium-restricted diet.


Carbohydrate, sugars, and fiber

This information is especially important if you have diabetes because choosing foods with less sugar and more fiber could help you control it. The total carbohydrate grams per serving will help you balance your meals. Every 15 grams of carbohydrate equals one bread/starch portion for diabetic and kidney diets. A good source of fiber will have at least 10% of the daily value, while a high fiber food will have at least 20% daily value.


Protein is very important for keeping you healthy. Every 7 grams listed equals one ounce of protein or one meat serving on your diet plan. For example:

Label protein Meat serving
7 grams

1 oz

14 grams 2 oz
21 grans 3 oz


Ask your dietitian how much protein you need daily.

What about potassium and phosphorus?

Potassium and phosphorus may be listed as percent daily values, but it is not required. (Starting in 2018, manufacturers will be required to list potassium.) If potassium and phosphorus are not listed, it does not mean that they are not in that food. If percent daily values for potassium and phosphorus are listed, you can use them to help with your diet.

Percentages for potassium and phosphorus are based on the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA). However, the RDA is a guideline for the needs of healthy adults, and your needs are different when you have kidney disease. Ask your dietitian about your potassium and phosphorus needs. Some foods with higher levels may be on your plan if they are good sources of protein.


Potassium low Medium High Very high
<100mg 101-200 201-300 >300
<3% 3-6% 6-9% over 9%


Percentages based on daily value for US food labeling - potassium 3500mg.


Phosphorus low Medium High
<50mg 51-150mg >150mg
<5% 5-15% >15%


Percentages based on daily value for US food labeling - phosphorus of 1000mg.

Pulling it all together

Know the portion sizes for your diet plan:

Food group Kidney disease diet
Milk 4 oz or ½ cup
Milk substitute 4 oz or ½ cup
Pasta, rice, cereal ½ cup
Bread 1 slice
Hotdog or hamburger bun ½ bun
Meats, protein foods 1 oz
Cooked vegetables ½ cup
Raw, fresh vegetables 1 cup
Canned fruit ½ cup
Fresh fruit 1 small or ½ large
Juices 4 oz or ½ cup
Oils, margarine 1 teaspoon


Know your diet needs for calories, fats, cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, potassium, and phosphorus. Ask your kidney dietitian to help you. No single food will have all the nutrients at the levels you need, but a balanced diet from various foods will help you meet your needs.

In general look for items with:

Nutrient Percent Daily Value
Total fat Under 20%
Saturated fats Under 10%
Cholesterol Under 7%
Fiber Over 10%
Sodium 6-10%
Potassium if listed Under 6%
Phosphorus if listed Under 5-15%


Look at certain foods and choose:

Food Look for
Meats: lean and extra lean Total fat 7.5 to 15%
Frozen meals Sodium under 20%, Total fat under 15%
Margarine and vegetable oils Saturated fat under 10%
Deli meats Total fat under 15%, Sodium under 20%
Vegetables Sodium under 6%


Acknowledgment: Reviewed by the Council on Renal Nutrition (04/2019)

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations. 

Last Reviewed: 04/17/2019
Is this content helpful?